Monday, March 4, 2013

The Kitchen House - Kathleen Grissom

Well, I have fallen down the rabbit hole of historical fiction again, and I can only say that this was a wonderful slide back to a favored genre. Kathleen Grissom tells a tale of race relations circa 1790's. We see the issue of slavery and indenture through the eyes of the privileged owners of a Virginia plantation, the hired hands that manage their slaves and indentured servants, and the chattel folk. It makes for a fascinating read. Within this story Grissom deals with the harsh realities of sexual and financial exploitation, the nature of powerlessness and how different people react to it in their lives, the power of love, acceptance and a sense of family, the process of  growing up and becoming wide-eyed and aware of one's situation in life, and finally the power of love and gentleness in one's dealings with others.

This is a many charactered story, told chapter by chapter from different points of view. Grissom has done a fantastic job of developing the characters of Belle and Lavinia, her two anchor characters. Belle is a mulatto slave, the illegitimate daughter of her owner, Captain James Pyke. Lavinia McCarten is a young Irish immigrant child, orphaned on a voyage aboard Pyke's trading ship from Europe. Captain Pyke takes Lavinia on, as an indentured servant, and houses her with the house slaves on his tobacco plantation. The seeds are sown for a tragic story of the racial boundaries that will create such family strife that there can be no happy ending. It is enthralling to watch the love and loyalty of some characters tangle with the sickness and racial hatred of others. 

Such a fine read ... I look forward to other books from Kathleen Grissom.

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